I visited the Kent 20/20 business exhibition at the Kent County Showground on April 19th, and spent an interesting few hours touring the stands, talking to a number of exhibitors and getting a feel for the confidence levels for the future. Overall, I would describe the mood as one of cautious optimism; there were plenty of people saying that the business environment was tough, but also that they were seeing some signs of improvement which gave hope for the future.
Many of the exhibitors were selling environmentally friendly services designed to lessen the carbon footprint, or improve recycling, or reduce waste. There was also a large number of financiers, IT experts, accountants and media management companies, many of which were relatively new and which, to me, demonstrated a faith in the current and future commercial environment within Kent and the wider South East economy.
I spoke to three recruitment companies, all of whom said that they were finding the numbers of vacancies that they were dealing with had improved over the previous 12 months. One of them was a purely internet based ‘filter and match’ service, but I was most struck by a small recruitment agency which was advertising a very holistic package of benefits for temporary staff including children’s parties and social events for workers who would otherwise miss out on the more leisure and social aspects of the working environment. These illustrate two extremes of the approach to recruitment – one of which is all about utilising the power of remote, internet-driven tools, and the other which almost feels like a return to a Quaker style of paternalistic employment. Both companies claimed to be growing swiftly and providing employers with additional added value in the recruitment of staff, whether permanent or temporary and provided an interesting dichotomy between two very different approaches.
I suspect that everyone will have to be working hard to ensure that their business stays sustainable and profitable as economic conditions seem likely to remain challenging for some time to come. But then no-one ever said that running a business was easy and it could be argued that those who make it in a time of recession and gloomy economic forecasts are likely to be more resilient and creative – and perhaps more worthy of success. One thing seems certain; a degree of realistic optimism is a requirement. I was talking to a friend in Kansas City earlier this month; she runs her own interior design company, and four years ago, was diagnosed with breast cancer which led to major surgery and chemotherapy. Since then, she has grown her business significantly and has a loyal following of clients. She is beginning to be featured in a number of key periodicals where her work is show-cased and is relentlessly optimistic about her future plans. Now, that’s what I call resilient!
We have been working with clients who have been making some tough and forward-looking decisions for some time, so that they can remain cost-effective and ensure that their staff are committed to the changes that have taken place. Staff have been supported in accepting the new cultural norms which have developed since the market place became less forgiving and more challenging. We believe that resilience can be planned and nurtured, and that it can be modelled by the senior managers and leaders in any organisation. Yes, it’s tough at the moment, but the challenges can also lead to high levels of satisfaction for those who face them head-on, and survive – or even thrive – in difficult conditions.